Help! 140 Characters aren’t enough…or are they?


Every morning when we wake up to a screaming alarm blaring from our cell phones, we roll over, click it off, and immediately keep that phone in our hands.  Whether it’s to check incoming emails that were sent over night, read an unread text message from a friend, or just to check the time, this “checking ritual” has become a big part of our morning routine.  Some would argue, just as important a part as taking a shower or starting the coffee pot.

As PR practitioners, we know that journalists too, are  amongst the people who make phone-checking the first part of their days. The journalists have another motivation in mind though—to gain  access to social media feeds from potential sources.   They browse their phone notifications for emails from colleagues, but they are also monitoring social media updates from PR firms and companies  of their choice.  Just as it’s our job to create the buzz, it’s their job to keep an ear quite closely to that buzz.

Some wonder– can that buzz be just as ‘buzzy’ when being distributed through social media?  The answer is yes.

It’s up to us PR super mavens to produce alluring text that integrates our client’s message into 140 characters. Those 140 characters must provide an essence of who our client is and what their company or service offers. After all, conveying their messages is of utmost importance to us and is one of our greatest responsibilities.  In light of the fact that Twitter and LinkedIn have character limitations for status updates and posts, it leaves many content generators stumped as to how to project a message in a witty, yet, informative way, and to not have it be overlooked by journalists.

The challenge: how are we supposed to contain all the juicy bits of information and descriptions of how amazing our clients are in a measly 140 characters?  I always ask if  the social media gods try to make things difficult for us PR practitioners.  You have to wonder if these content limits are designed by some diabolical mastermind to frustrate the masses, or if it’s actually a genius idea.

It seems to be the latter.   When journalists, clients, and the general public, i.e. target audiences are “plugged in” all day, they don’t want to comb through heavy marketing language or product descriptions dripping with adjectives. No, they want to know where the story is and what the story is about immediately.

Ironically, if one does want to post something longer than 140 characters, Twitter will tell him or her “you have exceeded the character limitations”.  Limitation is such a negative word, but in fact, is a very useful word in this setting.  Posting more than 140 characters may be limiting your window of opportunity to appeal to your followers  effectively.  The pulse of the message can’t be felt if it gets buried under too many words.   That’s why the success of websites like Pinterest have skyrocketed. The Pinterest success is an indicator that audiences are getting even more accustomed to visuals and limited text.   Social media is really, for all intents and purposes, an online conversation or visual display.   The 140 character limit presents an exciting, innovative opportunity for PR pros to address their audiences and engage quickly—- mimicking verbal conversation.    The beauty about these status updates and interactivity is that if you miss your target audience the first time, you can re-post an hour later to be seen by a fresh set of eyeballs.

The ability to get a message across quickly seems to get increasingly more difficult as text is expected to get shorter. This might be because the way society is moving. If we don’t want to take too much time browsing at a store, we can quickly order something online; we can get any cuisine from any restaurant delivered to us within 30 minutes. People want things fast– so why should our messages on social media be any different?   Satisfying this expectation takes skill, takes patience, and takes– professional PR and advertising gurus!

So, next time when you reach for your phone to login to your favorite networks, make sure you realize that half of those messages are created by a crafty PR elf behind the keyboard. They ensure that the most important information gets to you and gets there creatively and craftily AND ,in 140 characters—- or less.


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